St. Boniface of Mainz
Winfrith had expected to return to England from Friesland (in what is now Holland) in triumph. He had left the land where he was a respected scholar, teacher, and priest because he was convinced he was called to missionary work. He had argued and pestered his abbot into letting him go because he would gain greater success for God in foreign lands. He had abandoned a successful, safe life in his mid-forties to win souls for God.
But from the moment he stepped off the ship, his trip to Friesland to join the famous missionary Willibrord had been a disaster. Winfrith and his companions had landed to discover that the ruler of Friesland, Radbod, had declared war on Christians, destroying churches and monasteries, driving Willibrord into exile, and sending what was left of the Church into hiding. Winfrith tried in vain to convince Radbod to let him and his companions preach. Finally, he had no choice but to return to England a few short months later in defeat.
It would have been easy to give up missionary work at this point. Almost anyone would have looked at this fiasco and said that God was trying to tell him that he was called to stay and serve in England. Winfrith agreed that God had given him a message and he agreed that he had been mistaken. But his mistake had not been in the call but how he followed it. He had believed all he needed to ensure the mission's success was an enthusiastic response to God's call.
It's surprising that Winfrith ever would have believed this since so much of his previous life had depended on training and organization. Born about 675, he had convinced his parents to send him to a monastery for schooling because he admired the monks who had visited his home. Through diligent study he rapidly learned all that this local monastery could teach him and was transfered to the monastery at Nursling for further schooling. There he became such a well-known teacher that students circulated notes from his classes.
Back in England he started planning for his second missionary journey. He kept his enthusiasm but directed his zeal into organization and preparation for the journey. He would go to the pagan lands ... but first he would travel to Rome. When he had traveled to Friesland he had had no authority to back him up. No one had sent him there, no one would stand up for him if he needed support or help. Now he went to the pope asking for an official mission and the backing of the Church. Pope Gregory II was intrigued but uncertain and talked to Winfrith all winter long before finally sending him on a test mission to Thuringia in Germany.
In the pope's commission on May 15, 1719, we have the first record of Winfrith's new name, Boniface. The pope apparently gave him this new name because the previous day had been the feast of a martyr by that name. From then on he was known as Boniface to all who knew him.
Missionaries had come to Thuringia before but the Church there was in bad shape, isolated and subject to superstition and heresy. Boniface saw that he was going to get no help from the local clergy and monks, but he had learned in Friesland he could not spread God's word alone. He was about to send for help when he heard that Radbod had died and the missionary Willibrord was back in Friesland. Boniface immediately took off for Friesland, the site of his former humiliation. Perhaps he returned in hopes of redeeming his earlier disaster. It seems more likely, however, that he was following through on the lesson he had learned at that time and was going to get training from the expert in missions: Willibrord.
In the three years he spent with Willibrord, Boniface gave as much as he gained. So helpful was he that Willibrord, who was in his sixties, wanted to make Boniface his successor. But with his training over, Boniface felt the pull of the German missionary work he'd left behind, and, despite Willibrord's pleas, went to Hesse.
Unlike Thuringia or Friesland, Hesse had never been evangelized. Boniface had to start from scratch. Needing even more authority in dealing with chieftains who were his first goal for converts, he appealed to the pope again. During a trip to Rome, the pope consecrated Boniface bishop.
Boniface returned to find that his problems had worsened. People were attracted by Christianity but unable to give up their old religion and superstitions, perhaps out of fear of being different or of how their old "gods" would react. Knowing that the people needed a reason to let go, Boniface called the tribes to a display of power. As the people watched, Boniface approached the giant oak of Geismar, a sacred tree dedicated to Thor, with an axe. Some of the people must have trembled with each stroke of his axe, but nothing happened. Finally with a crack, the tree split in four parts that we, are told, fell to the ground in the shape of a cross. There stood Boniface, axe in hand, unharmed by their old gods, strong in the power of the one God.
After his success in Hesse, he returned to Thuringia to confront the old problem of the decadent remnants of the Church there. Unable to get help from the suspect clergy in Thuringia, he called to England for help. Nuns and monks responded to his call enthusiastically for many years. We still have many of Boniface's letters, including correspondence with his helpers in England. Reforming the Church was the biggest challenge in Thuringia and he had many thorny questions to answer. When a rite of baptism had been defective was it valid? What should he do about immoral clergy? Still remembering his first lesson, he appealed to Rome for answers from the pope. All his appeals to Rome helped him -- but it also helped forge a much stronger bond between Rome and Europe.
Boniface was called upon to lend his own support to Frankish Church which was also sadly in need of reform. He set up councils and syonds and instituted reforms which revitalized the Church there.
Few saints retire, and Boniface was no exception. At 73, a time when most are thinking of rest and relaxation, Boniface headed back to Friesland on a new mission. One day in 754 while he was awaiting some confirmands, an enemy band attacked his camp. Although his companions wanted to fight, Boniface told them to trust in God and to welcome death for the faith. All of them were martyred.
When have you jumped into something without thinking you needed preparation? What was the result? Is there something you feel called to do but don't feel that you know enough or would be able to handle it? Who can you go to for training or support? Talk to one of these people this week.Prayer:
FREE Catholic Classes Pick a class, you can learn anything
St. Padre Pio
Find SaintsPopular Saints
Saints by Alphabet
Saint Feast Days by Month
Patron Saints by Alphabet
Saint Feast Days by Month
St. Philip Neri was a Christian missionary and founder of the Congregation of the Oratory, a community of Catholic priests and lay brothers. He was born in Florence on July 21, 1515 as one of four ... continue readingMore Saint of the Day
Born on October 16 1890 in Corinaldo, in the Ancona Province in Italy, her farmworker father moved his family to Ferrier di Conca, near Anzio. When he died of malaria, Maria's mother had to struggle to feed her children. Maria's mother, brothers, and sisters worked in ... continue readingMore Female Saints
Saint Michael the Archangel isn't a saint, but rather he is an angel, and the leader of all angels and of the army of God. This is what the title "Archangel" means, that he is above all the others in rank. St. Michael has four main responsibilities or offices, as we ... continue reading
St. Gabriel is an angel who serves as a messenger for God to certain people. He is one of the three archangels. Gabriel is mentioned in both the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible. First, in the Old Testament, Gabriel appears to the prophet Daniel to explain his ... continue reading
Dymphna was born in Ireland sometime in the seventh century to a pagan father and devout Christian mother. When she was fourteen, she consecrated herself to Christ and took a vow of chastity. Soon afterward, her mother died and her father - who had loved his wife ... continue reading
Edward the Confessor was the son of King Ethelred III and his Norman wife, Emma, daughter of Duke Richard I of Normandy. He was born at Islip, England, and sent to Normandy with his mother in the year 1013 when the Danes under Sweyn and his son Canute invaded England. ... continue reading
By Deacon Keith Fournier
Vincent was a man like us who encountered the same Risen Lord Jesus whom we have encountered. He struggled with the choices which always accompany living the Christian life in the midst of a culture which has squeezed God and His truth out of the center of its ... continue readingMore Christian Saints & Heroes
by Catholic Online
- Making a Difference: Wars, threats of more wars, dishonor Memorial Day
- Daily Reading for Tuesday, May 28th, 2019 HD Video
- Pope Francis urges Catholics to help children by supporting adoption
- St. Philip Neri: Saint of the Day for Sunday, May 26, 2019
- Polish bishops pledge greater sensitivity for abuse victims
- Daily Readings for Sunday, May 26, 2019
- Daily Reading for Monday, May 27th, 2019 HD Video
- Give God control: 20 verses to help during anxiety and fear
- Why is this 14-foot statue of Our Lady underwater?
- 5 Things You Need To Know About 'Offering A Mass' For A Loved One
- 7 powerful morning prayers you need to get your day started with God
- Here are 10 Very Interesting Facts About the Catholic Church You ...
- Prayer Requests Live for Friday, May 24th, 2019 HD
- Daily Reading for Sunday, May 26th, 2019 HD
- Prayer Requests Live for Thursday, May 23rd, 2019 HD
- Daily Reading for Saturday, May 25th, 2019 HD
Learn about Catholic world
Inform - Inspire - Ignite
Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained
Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need
Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online
Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye
Today's bible reading
Products and services we offer
Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books
Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on catholic.org
Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel
Learn the Catholic way
Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all
K-12 & Adult Education Classes
Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education
Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.
Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.